10/03/2002 11:00PM

Wind, rain, and Owsley in the Galaxy

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland Race Course opened its 17-day fall meet Friday with strong and swirling action, not to mention some pretty decent horse racing.

Two Grade 2 races were run on the nine-race opener, with Owsley winning as the 4-1 third choice in the WinStar Galaxy Stakes, and Westerly Breeze posting a 15-1 upset in the Walmac International Alcibiades Stakes.

But what most of the 10,631 people in attendance probably will remember is how remnants of Hurricane Lili took center stage, as steady rain and 50-mile-per-hour winds left fans scrambling for cover in the clubhouse and grandstand.

Noticing the weather was unavoidable even for fans watching on television, as cameramen stationed outside had great difficulty holding their equipment steady, and microphones amplified great surges of wind throughout the simulcasting network.

Nonetheless, the races went off without incident, and the hurricane leftovers were being forecast to leave the area by Saturday. As for the connections of Owsley, a 4-year-old filly who got a brilliant ride from Edgar Prado, they had absolutely no qualms about the weather after their turf star drew off from a gritty Snow Dance to win the fifth running of the $544,500 Galaxy by 1 1/4 lengths. Surya, the 9-5 second choice, finished third, another three-quarters of a length back, while Affluent, the 6-5 favorite, faded to fifth.

Arthur Hancock is the owner and breeder and Randy Schulhofer is the trainer of Owsley, a Harlan filly who now will head to the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Arlington Park. The Galaxy was easily her richest career win, although she did win the New York and Glens Falls handicaps in two of her three previous starts.

"Edgar Prado did a great job, and Randy really had her looking good," said Hancock, a former longtime director at Keeneland.

After six fillies and mares broke smoothly, Essoueffcee sped off to a big lead in the 1 3/16-mile Galaxy, but she was engulfed by the far turn. Snow Dance then took over, after which Surya and Affluent made failed runs at her. Then, Owsley, having angled to the rail for the drive, slipped through an opening and drew even in midstretch before edging clear. She returned $10.40 after finishing in 1:56.72 over a yielding turf.

The 6-3 exacta paid $53.80 and the 6-3-2 trifecta paid $255.60.

In a hurricane, pick Westerly Breeze

In a result befitting hunch players willing to acknowledge the weather, Westerly Breeze ($33.60) rolled to a three-quarter-length victory in the $445,200 Alcibiades after overcoming her outside post in a field of nine 2-year-old fillies. Robby Albarado was aboard the winner, a Gone West filly who finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.90 over a sloppy track.

"It was a southwesterly breeze, anyway," said winning trainer Carl Nafzger, noting how the weather had made its way from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.

Westerly Breeze, owned by Steven Miles and bred by The Thoroughbred Corp., broke alertly and proceeded to clear the balance of the field as Atlantic Ocean, who had left from post eight, grabbed a clear lead into the first turn.

Leaving the backstretch, Westerly Breeze went up to challenge Atlantic Ocean, who had little response. Into the turn, Westerly Breeze drew clear, and although Ruby's Reception, a 5-1 shot, made a sustained rally, she was unable to seriously threaten the winner.

Final Round, an 8-1 shot, finished third, another 5 1/4 lengths back. Then came Atlantic Ocean, Caucus, Wildwood Royal, Midnight Cry, Black Heart, and Sand Springs.

Midnight Cry was the 2-1 favorite while Atlantic Ocean and Caucus were co-second choices at 3-1.

Nafzger said Westerly Breeze likely would run next in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. She won her maiden Aug. 16 in an Arlington Park sprint in her second career start, then finished fourth in the one-mile Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies in her only subsequent race.

"I think getting that first race around two turns really helped her," said Nafzger.

Man of glory wins Nureyev Stakes

Earlier Friday, Manofglory ($12.60) wore down Mighty Beau in a long drive to capture the $84,450 Nureyev Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong turf race for older horses.

Owned by Ray Dweck and trained by Ben Perkins Jr., Manofglory stalked the pace before finally getting the best of Mighty Beau, who had overtaken the front-running favorite, Bop, turning for home.

"When I asked him to go, he took off and never quit running," said winning rider Jorge Chavez.

Manofglory, a 5-year-old Glitterman gelding, finished in 1:03.99. He now has won seven of 18 starts.

o Alke ($7.80), a 2-year-old colt trained by Bob Holthus, led off the meet with a front-running win in a $50,000 maiden race. Alke is an acronym derived from the names of his owners, Alan Braun and Ken English. "This feels great, winning the first race of the meet," English said.